Wednesday, 27 June 2012

And now for something completely different... (Gamebook Adventures - Temple of the Spider God playthrough)

Why oh why couldn't it be
Temple of the Dinosaur God?!
Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning may or may not recall my mentioning of the Gamebook Adventures series by Tin Man Games, a very enjoyable series of digital gamebooks in a similar vein to Fighting Fantasy. These 'books' are currently available on iPod and iPad for a very reasonable price and there are currently 8 in the series. This number looks set to explode faster than the House of Hell after you fell a dodgy butler over the coming months, which is something that I hope you'll agree is rather awesome. Even better is that they now have the FF licence, which means Blood of the Zombies and more besides will get the expert digitalisation that Tin Man can provide. Judge Dredd is also getting the Tin Man treatment, although to be totally honest I have never read it before and know next to nothing about the series. (I'll still be buying it - I have no doubts about its quality) I believe those of you who are lucky enough to own an Android can also get the GA series. Rather sadly, I do not own an Android, which is a pity as I imagine having a robot to do one's own evil bidding that can also play digital gamebooks is one frikkin' awesome robot. Oh wait, an Android phone...

I'll be completely honest. Being a guy who loves books, games and writing, I am rather jealous of anyone who gets to write/edit/publish Gamebooks. Therefore naturally Tin Man Games sit top of the list of the people/companies that inspire me/are places I want to end up at with my life. The whole point of doing Creative Writing at Uni is to try and get myself a better chance of becoming an FF/GA author in the future. That and to get more creative with my wording - I am currently having a go at writing a gamebook with a working title of Shipwreck Survivor, which is horrendously lame. Still, the prospect of going into a bookshop one day and seeing a book with the name Eddie Boshell on it drives me to keep writing and endeavour to continue improving. Anyway, this is supposed to be a gamebook playthrough blog, not a job application! My first GA title I ever bought was #7 in the series, Temple of the Spider God. For that simple reason, it shall be the first GA playthrough I feature on here. Yes, I know this is primarily an FF blog, but hey, Tin Man have the FF licence now, so if you think about it they're all one big happy family anyway! Quite why Temple was the first GA I bought I have no idea - I HATE SPIDERS. I'm not an arachnophobe as such; I have nothing against Scorpions. But Spiders. Spiders can fuck off. Yet I cannot deny they make a classic fantasy monster owing to alot of people sharing my irrational fear of them. Well, I say irrational. It would be irrational if Spiders had done nothing against me. But after dying to them in my first few attempts at Temple the day I bought it, I'd say I have fair reason to fear them. Temple is illustrated (In colour! - see later for my views on this) by Joshua Wright, with the cover art by Dan Maxwell. The adventure itself is penned by Jonathan Green.

Quite possibly the greatest
evil genius within the world of Fantasy
gamebooks - I like to think that's
a wonderful compliment.
Ahh, Jonathan Green. Fans of FF will know him well from his entries towards the end of the Puffin run of books, as well as some of the new Wizard books. Fans of FF will also be aware how a typical Jonathan Green adventure goes; the guy plays for keeps. No nurturing the player through the story, with the adventure getting increasingly harder as you go through. Oh no, you get thrown in right at the sharp end, often with a fight in the first or second paragraph. His books are notoriously very difficult, with many high skill enemies preventing weak intital rolls from being able to realistically survive. However, I find his storytelling first-class; His FF books will more than likely be my happiest entries in the entire blog. (On that note, does anyone know where I can get Knights of Doom for a reasonable price? Everywhere I look it's upwards of £30) One other thing Jon Green is famous for is his use of codewords throughout, as well as many other anti-cheating devices (Damn you for foiling my plans!) Having just flicked through some FF books for inspiration as to what book to play after Forest of Doom, it occurred to me that alot of these codewords are words spelt backwards, i.e REGNAD. I have read through Bloodbones numerous times and it's taken until now to realise this, which makes me feel rather inferior and unworthy of succeeding in an FF or GA book anytime soon. Anyway, I'm digressing, and not for the first time!

GA books follow similar yet different rules to an FF title. There are 3 different difficulty settings; Classic, Bookworm and Novice. The difficulty setting determines how many bookmarks you get, which are a sort of checkpoint you can return to if you die; I love these, especially given how punishing the combat system can be. They also slightly affect your starting stats. Gone are Skill, Stamina and Luck. In GA you have Vitality, Fitness, Offensive and Defensive. Vitality is essentially the same as stamina, and Fitness works in much the same way as Skill. Offensive and Defensive only apply during combat, and effect the number of dice you get to roll for your attack and defence respectively. You don't roll for the latter two stats; they both start at 1 and can reach a maximum of 6. Now for that combat. FF employs what I like to think of as a easy to use yet basic combat; GA uses a more realistic yet hard-hitting style. In GA you take turns to attack and defend, rolling a number of dice equal to your offensive or defensive stat, depending on whether you're attacking or defending. Unlike FF, it is not your highest total that wins the attack round/parries the blow, but the highest number on the dice. This means that a person with offensive value 6 can still struggle against a defensive 1. What makes this system so punishing is that if you're hit you lose vitality points equal to the total of the winner of the attack round. Therefore you could roll 6 5's for your defence, yet if your opponent rolls 5 4's and a single 6, you take a gargantuan 26 vitality hit. Ouch. You can test for fitness in a similar way to testing luck in FF - if you pass you add 1 to the number of your highest die roll, or subtract 1 if you fail. Temple also features Phobia rolls when coming across Spiders, a stat that is thankfully predetermined otherwise my phobia score would most likely be 1. Anyway, that's a basic overview, time to dive in!

I decided to play on Bookworm difficulty, which is the middle ground - you get more bookmarks than classic but don't get any nice additions to your stats. Therefore for my starting vitality I roll 4 dice and add 24, and my fitness roll 1 die and add 6.
This would be a great time to split...
Vitality 43, Fitness 8. Bugger. I recall a low fitness score meaning doom for my character, who this time around is called Peter Parker. Oh yeah, my offensive and defensive scores both start at 2, which is double what I thought they started at. Hooray! Temple is set as most GA books are in the fictional land of Orlandes, and features an interesting set-up. Cesaro Cortez, that famous explorer you've never heard of went missing some three years ago, feared dead by all apart from his pet Ferret, whose only fear was where its next meal of Rabbit soufflĂ© was going to come from. So, Ferret aside, the people of Orlandes were full of the joys of spring when some mysterious cargo arrived in the port of Miramar. You however, couldn't give a shit at the start. Having just freed the Axe Bite Pass (Such a great name!) and the villages of the Dragonmarches from the clutches of the Fellclaw, your only real concern is praise and reward from Duke Rodrigo for your feat of brilliance. As you get to the meat of being thanked, two conquistadors barge in carrying a large chest. This chest has been delivered via first class delivery on order of Cortez himself. Apparently this chest contains gold for the Duke from Cesaro. Bullshit. Spider Sense on full alert, Petey offers to open the chest for the Duke, more than suspicious of the day's happenings. Rather predictably, he finds no gold inside but instead a black and red Spider the size of a man's head leaps out keen to remove my name from the next Census. Annoyingly, I fail the phobia roll I am forced to make, instead fighting this spider whilst, and I quote 'quaking in my boots'. Whilst I myself would have been shitting myself, I'd have thought a great warrior such as Peter Parker would have had a bit more resolve about him than a Phobia score of 7. Still, I suppose even the greatest and most powerful warriors have something they're scared of. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time here I guess...

Despite losing 1 of my offensive value due to failing that phobia roll (Which explains why it starts at 2) I skewer the hideous creature on my sword, taking in a huge sigh of relief. Unfortunately, Cortez's crew lob the chest at me as they try and escape. Petey's Spider Sense (Ok, Fitness) again saves the day, as I expertly catch the chest and hurl it back in one sweet move, knocking one of the bastards out. Swiftly killing the other, I catch my breath as the Duke gives his chamberlain a right rollicking for letting these would-be murderers in. What follows is truly gruesome. I notice a lump on the dead guy's back. Thinking in the confusion Petey had thrown a Spider tracer onto his back, he checked it out. It wasn't a Spider tracer. It was another giant spider, with it's fangs buried in the man's spine. Just before the Spider detaches itself from it's dead host, I run it through, doing the same as I discover the other man was the same. Positively disgusting. I am only glad there was no illustration for this; it was disturbing enough as it is! Duke Rodrigo now decides I must lead an investigation into what the hell just happened, as it would appear Cesaro Cortez is not dead after all. For the good of that poor Ferret, he must be found! I am given 60 Pestados and sent on my way.

There's something fishy going on here...
 My first port of call is to the Explorer's Guild, complete with random Mermen statues outside. Guildmaster Vido Gonzalez (Jon Green had evidently been to Spain/Mexico around the time of writing this) claims he may know something about Cortez but a small donation to Save the Whales will help jog his memory. Ok, so it wasn't Save the Whales, but I feel better thinking it is as opposed to just funding the Explorer's Guild! He tells me that Cesaro went missing 3 years ago on an expedition to the Isla des Desperanza. He leaves me with a page from Cortez's journal, which tells me how he lost one of his ships to some great Behemoth of the ocean. Heading to the docks, Peter Parker finds two ships waiting. Having been informed by Vido that one of Cortez's ships was called the Sea Witch, you might expect me to head straight for the ship called that. Not being a big fan of playing logically, I decide to explore the plain black-sailed ship before going to a ship that most likely has a plethora of killer Spiders on board. Showing this ruffian on the gangplank the official Miramar seal (A proper seal this time) he lets me board. He takes me to see his cargo, and it becomes alarmingly apparent that this is a Slave ship. Quite clearly poking my nose in business that doesn't concern me annoys said Slavers, so it's no great surprise when a couple of them spring themselves upon me. I kill them rather than enslave them, in the effort to teach them that crime really doesn't pay. However, with such great power comes great responsibility, so I use the keys I took off one of them to free the Slaves. I also find 20 Pestados for my troubles. If I die on the next page, my moral conscience is clear. Freeing Slaves is such a liberating experience...

All those Spiders, and not a single radioactive one.
Onto the Sea Witch. One of Cortez's ships being in port is very suspicious so it'd be foolish not to take a little peek. I charge the first few crewmen on deck, launching into yet another combat. Slaying them, the ship starts to depart. Trying to prevent them from getting away that easily, Peter fires a web and shoots across to the deck. Flinging a lantern across the deck for the hell of it, I soon realise that was a great idea, only now I'm trapped on a burning ship. Shrewd move Petey, shrewd fucking move. Retreating into the hold hoping to find some anti-Arachnid device, I instead find a fuck load of Spiders. Big Spiders, little Spiders, jumping Spiders, black Spiders and finally a decidedly worrying amount of the same skullback Spiders that tried to kill the Duke. Once again failing my phobia check, I defend myself against two of the latter. Fleeing the stomach-churning cargo hold, I head into another room on the ship, finding a disappointingly empty Captain's cabin. I guess meeting Cortez this early on would bring a rather quick ending to proceedings.  I find another page from his journal suggesting of dark monsters on the Isla des Desperanza.  Fortunately at this point the will to live takes over and Peter is forced to jump into the sea. Worryingly the Sea Witch continues despite being a flaming inferno. Before anything else, it's time to go shopping!

On my bizarre venture into the bazaar I buy some armour, (Defence up to 4) a better sword, (Offence up to 3) a rope (provided it doesn't strangle me it shall be most useful), some anti-venom and a fuckload of healing herbs. I'm given the option of trekking via land or the sea to reach the Isla des Desperanza. Thinking I'm more likely to avoid Spiders by taking the wet route, I look for a ship. Unfortunately, my heroism from earlier catches up with me, and some Slavers who weren't around earlier come hunting for my head. Teaching them the error of their ways in a pretty finite way, I find a captain Nesto who reluctantly agrees to take me places. Sticking to the safety of the shore, we go on a bit until we come across a wreck, which I duly investigate. Some rather powerful Crabs get rather crabby about their home being disturbed, so I send one of the crew in to fight. That's one of the interesting dynamics about Temple; there's various opportunities to gain allies to help you out in fight situations, which is extremely helpful. Derek the Crewman is a good Crab-slayer, so soon we can explore the wreck in safety. I find two Emerald eyes and another journal page, this time mentioning of a sleeping God...

Alas poor Derek, I knew him well.
Heading back to the Kraken (The ship, not an evil monster with tentacles) I instruct Nesto to return to the shoreline. Coming across a secluded bay, Peter spots a Reman ship. Being my first GA book, I am unaware as to who/what a Reman is, but apparently they have an Empire (or used to), are notorious for enslaving people and have absolutely no business being this side of the world. Could they be behind the Spider attack? I hope not, cos I leave them to whatever it is they're doing and sail onwards. The next day (Yes, this is possibly one of the longest gamebooks in terms of time expired) we come to an island with what appears to be a noble's palace present. My spider-sense doesn't tingle, so I decide there's nothing here that will help me either. Out of nowhere, a gargantuan storm kicks up and the Kraken starts getting tossed around. We survive, but with lots of damage Nesto decides we ought to take refuge in the nearby town of Quintos. Quintos appears to have become a ghost town since Nesto last visited. It's therefore surprisingly unsurprising when Derek and I get ambushed by an.... ambusher.  To my eternal sadness Derek died, leaving me to wreak my revenge upon my foe. Aha! This ambusher was host to one of those massive Spiders from earlier; walking through Quintos reveals webs everywhere, with drained husks of animals and humans adorning the streets. Gruesome stuff, to be truly honest. A temple to Hydros is similarly smothered in webs, so I take Derek's brother Carl with me and head inside.

Inside is hell reincarnated as a Spider. On the ceiling lies a Spider 'at least twice as big as a carthorse. It's bulbous body is mottled a filthy green and brown.' Gulp. With suitable music in the background, Carl and myself chop through some more human hosts and force our way through to the mammoth Spider. Miraculously passing my phobia check on the largest Spider yet, a titanic duel ensues. Carl gets eaten almost instantly, but I just about survive to end the monstrosity. Unfortunately, this Spider is a different species from the Skullbacks, so it's just a random fucking huge evil thing. Hooray!... Raising the temple to the ground, I return to Nesto mourning the loss of Derek and Carl. A day after the Quintos visit the lookout  (The third brother, Clive) spots the Isla des Desperanza on the horizon. Suddenly a concentrated beam of light sets the Kraken alight, forcing Peter to dive into the sea. When I eventually come to I have not become a Scorpion again but rather landed on the Isla des Desperanza. What a stroke of luck! Clive is nowhere to be seen though; Doris is going to have a hard time when news of her sons' equally painful deaths gets through...

In the Jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion is strangely absent. After wandering around for a bit, I find a bridge full of webs and Spiders. Jonathan Green - Why must you gnaw at my fears so constantly?!?! Taking in a deep sigh, I prepare to cross. Halfway across a different variety of giant Spiders (as big as dogs this time!) come hurtling towards me. Now more than capable of coping with my phobia, I draw my sword. Be-legging them, I sprint across the remainder of the bridge, coming across a statue of a giant Spider, complete with Sapphires for eyes. Just avoiding a poison dart flying from the Spider statue's mouth, I grab the eyes and move on. To cannibal Pygmies. Peter runs for his life, but gets hit by a dart from their blowpipes. Thank god for that Anti-venom! I just about survive with enough energy to make my escape.

Think this, but covered with webs and Spiders.
Not the best holiday destination.
I stumble across a temple-like pyramid quite likely similar to the above, deducing a side entry would be stealthy and best. Going into the little ravine on the side, my Spider sense goes like crazy. Some venomous Spiders jump out, bite me and leave me in a comatose state. The book has a nice juicy description of my end, so I quote: 'There is nothing you can do as the Spiders bind you in more of their webs, then leave you in the damp gully to rot before feasting on your deliquescing flesh.' Yep, a most delightful way to go, that...

It's worth noting that there's ALOT of ways to die in this. There is a separate death paragraph for any fight you lose, so I imagine Jon had some fun writing all of those gruesome ends. My journey before getting eaten was as follows:

1–159–249–123–482–560–125-600-157-4-57-241-551-559-464-568-525-564-433-514-350-397- 143-189-238-416-599-220-269-507-594-29-102-138-269-507-102-138-142-569-117-496-487-267-587-319-373-188-511-425-265-124-450-601-353-598-372-23-443-108-96-30-526-494-132-185-106-172-578-603-273- 275-512-486-562-338-421-575-597-483-198-78-455-303-550-302-446.

I only visited 83 different paragraphs; that's not many. There's also more paragraphs than your average FF book in this. The nature of GA books being digital means I don't actually know how many paragraphs there are, but as you can see from above there's over 600! The fact there's a separate death one for each fight lost would increase the number substantially though. Despite the small number of paragraphs I visited, I had to unsheathe my sword on a vast number of occasions -

Skullback Spider - Vitality: 4 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Conquistador 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 2
Slaver 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Slaver 2 - Vitality: 13 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Sailor 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 1 Defensive: 2
Sailor 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 1 Defensive: 2
Skullback Spider 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Skullback Spider 2 - Vitality: 8 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Thug 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Thug 2 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Scar Crab 1 - Vitality: 8 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 3
Scar Crab 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 3
Ambusher - Vitality: 12 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Spider Host 1 - Vitality: 12 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2  
Spider host 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Monstrous Spider - Vitality: 25 Offensive: 5 Defensive: 3
Web-Shooter 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 1
Web-Shooter 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 1
Venomous Spider 1 - Vitality: 16 Offensive: 4 Defensive: 1
Venomous Spider 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 4 Defensive: 1

So, as is common with a Jonathan Green gamebook, there are numerous fights. By the quick and sometimes harsh nature of combat in GA, an opponent with Vitality, Offensive and Defensive values of 1 could theoretically kill you regardless of how high your totals were; Obviously though the Monstrous Spider was the most dangerous combat of those above. My next feature's name is very FF-orientated, not GA, although seeing how Jon has penned FF himself, not to mention (again) the fact Tin Man have acquired the digital FF licence, I don't see why I can't re-use the name for a GA book. So sit tight, it's time for...


Trust me - you don't even want to
know what THAT is...
Illustrations: The nature of a digital gamebook means I cannot just flick through the book and see all the illustrations for myself. Therefore there are a number of images I simply haven't seen. That said, the ones I did come across were of good quality and as previously mentioned, in colour. Now, I'm not sure about this. There's something nice about a black and white image in a fantasy gamebook. I'm not sure what; I just prefer a non-colour image. Saying that, I fully understand why Tin Man use colour illustrations. They work far better in a digital gamebook than an actual real-life book and are perhaps more appealing to the casual consumer. If Temple was ever released as an actual paperback (If anyone at Tin Man reads this, please make paperbacks of the GA series, I'd happily buy them all over again if you did!) I think black and white illustrations would work far better. The cover is nice; it gives an atmospheric feel for the whole jungle-temple adventure, even if I never did get inside! The 'interior' illustrations are mostly pretty good, with my pick being on the right. It's not my favourite, but it gets brownie points for scaring the shite out of me when I stumbled across it playing at midnight with the lights off! 7/10

Monsters/other NPC encounters: Again, you can't just flick through this and see all the encounters for yourself, which sadly means there's likely many encounters I can't tell you about. However, after finishing my playthrough I did play again on Novice, taking a slightly different route. There was a Vampire living in that noble's palace, Spider Centaurs inside the temple and Inzi, who is best described by looking above. As is common with Jon Green adventures, there is also a pleasing amount of NPC's to talk to and explore with. The addition of allies to help with combat (Poor Derek and Carl) is a nice feature that helps to ease the pain of the sometimes brutal combats. Combats in a Jon Green book are notoriously fiendishly difficult (apparently the opening combat in this was altered to make it slightly less horrible) and whilst there are many challenging fights I wouldn't say any are unfair here. Except perhaps Inzi. She's a real bitch. Despite the strong focus on Spiders there's some great variety here. 9/10

Storyline/Plot: There's a great story here, with a sense of mystery surrounding Cesaro Cortez. More is revealed to the reader as they progress, with the journal pages teasingly revealing bit by bit if you can find them all. Without giving away too much from the ending, everything falls quite nicely into place. Exploration is something I would encourage - there are many side quest style mini plots and adventures that help add to the adventure, like that noble Vampire. Jon Green is known for his strong storytelling within his gamebooks: This one is no different. 9/10

Difficulty: When I played back through on novice difficulty, I actually completed this! Starting with 12 fitness helps immensely; there's numerous pass-or-die fitness tests near the end, so a strong fitness score becomes a minor necessity. The only items you truly need are those various jewelled eyes (Not just the ones I found in the above playthrough though!) but buying items from the market to help boost your Offensive/Defensive scores is very useful. Of course, I could have used one of my bookmarks to 'turn back' to just before I died to those venomous Spiders and replay the fight, such is the beauty of the inclusion of such 'save points'. For the purpose of my own rules for this blog I did not do this, but I can't stress what a handy feature the bookmarks are. Their inclusion lowers the difficulty somewhat, but this is still challenging enough. 7/10

Seal of Approval?: This is a great adventure. I cannot stress how much I hate Spiders, but I was strangely drawn in by this one and it's 8-legged inhabitants. The Mayan/Spanish/Mexican exotic setting worked well; I felt really immersed within it. Worth noting is the vivid descriptions of the various encounters and places, which is something Jon Green has done very well here. That description of my death was equally as beautiful as it was terrifying, as bizarre as that sounds. I know you guys are probably fed up of what follows but I promise not every entry will have the blighter below!

Different gamebook series. Same Seal.

GA books may work similarly to FF ones, but they are equally as enjoyable and definitely unique. The combat system is of particular interest; after I have got through some more playthroughs of both series I will do a mini debate on the pros and cons of both systems. I will be returning to FF next time out with that promised playthrough of Forest of Doom either later this week or early next. Now you've read this, go check out some other blogs in the FF/other gamebook playthrough family. Paul's been travelling through the stars, Murray's been dealing with deadly talismans and Marsten's been going all oriental. Marsten's also been looking at multi-player gamebooks; stay tuned on that, we may have an interesting collaboration coming to a blog near you soon! If you like the sound of GA, check out the official website for more on the series. I already linked them earlier, but also check out Tin Man Games for news on their projects and currently a very interesting feature on the combat in GA books. Lastly each and every one of you (Including you!) should pay Jonathan Green's blog a visit to check out his vast collection of various fantasy projects. The last thing I should do is the moral for this escapade. Never enter a spider-infested temple from the side. Remember that folks, it could just save your life.


  1. This was very cool and very interesting. I've not played any digital ones myself (no i-thingy to play one on), looks like a curious format. You've given this a really neat twist.
    Y'know, most of my blog's traffic comes from your mentions here :D

    1. Thanks - It's funny, cos the majority of my traffic comes from your blog, advertising clearly works!

  2. That was a really good read. I don't have a device that GA will work on either so it was good to read your play through. As for envying people who write gamebooks to be published, I just wrote a blog and some entries for the Windhammer competition and now I'm writing a gamebook RPG system and I'm selling some TnT solos. Stick to this and you don't know where it will take you.
    Also, if you enter this year's Windhammer gamebook competition and win, you will be published by the Tin Man. It's only 100 paragraphs at most, so you could easily get a gamebook done by September.